BY: Pooya Mirzaei
PEJOURNAL – The Associated Press has published a report on a “mysterious air base” that the news agency claims is being built on a volcanic island near Yemen.
The report emphasizes that the construction site of this air base has been selected in one of the most important offshore parts of the world in terms of energy transportation and commercial cargo.
Euronews also reported, citing the Associated Press, that no country has officially claimed responsibility for the construction of the mysterious air base on Perim Island (also called Mayyun in Arabic) in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, but maritime traffic related to the construction of an airport runway on the 5.6-kilometer island in recent years has been mainly to the UAE.
Officials of the government in exile of Yemen, recognized by the international community, say the UAE is behind the latest efforts to build the base, although the UAE announced in 2019 that it was withdrawing its forces from the Saudi-led military coalition to counter Houthis and Ansarullah.
“This effort seems to be aimed at achieving a strategic, long-term goal of a relatively permanent presence on the island,” said Jeremy Binnie, the Middle East editor of the open-source intelligence company Janes, who has been pursuing construction operations in Perim (Mayyun) Island.
“The construction of this base is probably not only related to the Yemeni war, and you should also consider the importance of maritime transport there,” he said.
The Associated Press reports that UAE officials in Abu Dhabi, as well as officials from the UAE embassy in Washington, have refused to respond to calls from the news agency regarding the construction of an air base on Mayyun Island.
Meanwhile, the report states that Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, referring to the construction of this air base, reminded that the United Arab Emirates has not withdrawn from the Yemeni war in practice.
The base runway at Mayyun Island allows any country it controls to impose its power on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and easily launch airstrikes on Yemeni soil.
The base will also allow the controlling country to conduct any operations in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the areas facing East Africa.
The Associated Press satellite images clearly show trucks, graders and other road construction machinery operating during the construction of a 1.85-kilometer runway on the island.
The construction operation was apparently completed on May 18 with the construction of three hangars located just south of the runway.
A runway with these characteristics can practically be used for attack, surveillance and logistics aircraft. The previous effort, which began in late 2016 and then stopped, was to build a larger three-kilometer runway. The construction of that runway could have made it possible for even the heaviest bombers to fly.
Military officials in the internationally recognized Yemeni government, which also backed the Saudi-led coalition, say the UAE has built the airport.
The Associated Press quoted several unnamed officials as saying that UAE ships had been carrying weapons, equipment and troops to Mayyun Island in recent weeks.
According to military officials, the recent tensions between the UAE and the Yemeni government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, are partly related to Abu Dhabi’s request for a 20-year lease on Mayyun Island and the Yemeni government’s insistence on agreeing to it.
The initial construction project, which began shortly after the recapture of Mayyun Island from Houthi militants by UAE forces, was halted in 2015 without success.
However, satellite images show that the construction of an air base on the island took place in late 2016.
“While the Horn of Africa has become a dangerous place for UAE due to the competition and the dangers of local war, the sparsely populated island of Mayyun can be a valuable place to monitor the Red Sea,” said Eleonora Ardmani, an analyst at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI).
According to Ardmani, the UAE’s foreign policy has shifted from the exercise of power to the protection of power, and such a capability has strengthened the country’s military ability to monitor what is happening in the region, as well as its increasing ability to deter potential non-governmental actors close to Iran.
Perim Island (also called Mayyun in Arabic), is located about 3.5 km off the coast of southwestern Yemen. The Associated Press reports that world powers realized the island’s strategic importance hundreds of years ago, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas.